Good order at sea is critical to the trading interests of virtually every economy on the planet. The maritime domain is the next “great frontier” of global growth. Yet, at a time of ever increasing connectivity between societies and economies, smaller countries too seldom see their particular interests and status scrutinized in the wider debate over “whose order” should prevail at sea. There is an intrinsically political dimension to the “ordering of the global commons” that can simultaneously consolidate or erode existing practices of global governance, with huge ramifications into the economic realm.
As a trading nation with a strong maritime tradition (half of its trade is seaborne), a self-styled champion of regional integration, a proponent of the rule of law, and a pioneer in naval “pooling and sharing” practices, Belgium has a lot to contribute to the ongoing global discussion on maritime security. It has skills, experience and resources to share, that can provide useful additions, in terms of perspective and substance, to conflict prevention and conflict management perspectives in the maritime sphere.
Discussing specific interests and contribution to maritime security rules and practices involves definitional issues as well as a transdisciplinary vision that the topic itself does not facilitate. Maritime security is simultaneously broad and narrow. It is narrow as a field of expertise for seafarers and maritime professionals. It is broad as a concept used by academics to account for such different things as legal regimes, the confrontation of maritime threats, environmental conservation or socio-economic issues. Bearing this in mind, GRIP and the Egmont Institute convened a first expert roundtable in December 2016, with the view of launching a Brussels-based platform of exchange and action on maritime security.
The present report is the result of this two-panel event. The following pages do more than just compile proceedings; they integrate different perspectives so as to foster a coherent, yet by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, view of Belgium’s assets and experience. The end-product should provide policymakers in Europe and abroad a useful example of what a small country like Belgium can contribute to the global debate on maritime security.